Rogelio Manuel Díaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — The first time I ever set foot in the Manzana de Gomez walkway in Havana’s old town, it wasn’t to buy anything at one of its ground-floor shops. I couldn’t have done that even if I’d wanted to at the time, the height of Cuba’s interminable “Special Period” (economic crisis of the 90s). If memory serves me right, even holding hard currency was still illegal in the country.
The first time I ever set foot in the Manzana de Gomez, it was to take part in a school competition (probably having to do with Physics), of the kind organized by the educational system around the country.
For many years, the building housed a number of schools, theatres, editorial offices and other cultural establishments, such as the Latin American Culture Institute, chaired by renowned intellectual Fernando Ortiz.
The building was constructed over a broad span of time, between 1890 and 1918, and was primarily financed by the wealthy Gomez-Mena family. Since its completion, it has been one of Havana’s emblematic public sites. The passage of time and lack of maintenance have resulted in serious structural damage.
Thanks to a dispatch published by Prensa Latina, I have just found out that the building is going to be turned into a 500-bedroom hotel. I suspect they’re going to conserve the building’s façade, out of respect for the city’s architectural heritage, history and all that, which historian and entrepreneur Eusebio Leal Spengler knows how to manage so well. It’s rather painful to think that, to do this, they will have to relocate the schools there.
To tell the truth, the building has been in such a deplorable state for so long that the schools may have been closed, and the students relocated to other institutions in the area some time ago. Ultimately, this was also the fate of the Faculty of Physics at the University of Havana, and of thousands of other buildings – schools, residences, medical centers and factories that deteriorated to the point of becoming uninhabitable, deadly traps where no few souls perished.
The resources needed to repair them never did turn up, while no shortage of these was squandered in other places of dubious social usefulness.
Now, if it’s a hotel we’re talking about, then there’s plenty of money to spend. Every good capitalist knows that, in order to make money, you need to invest money. Perhaps the University of Havana steps will one day lead to the entrance of another pretty hotel, which will prove more profitable than a place where Maxwell’s equations are taught. Perhaps the Pedro Borras Hospital will someday be made into a golf resort, who knows.
I doubt anyone consulted with the community, with the parents, teachers or workers of the Manzana de Gomez, before deciding the building’s new destiny. In any event, if someone has any information in this connection, do share it. Though no one will be left without an education, the boys and girls of these schools, who are to continue their Math, Spanish and History studies elsewhere, will walk away with a slightly bitter lesson: that a place of learning is ultimately expendable.